Social media is encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to do more for charities by allowing them to work collectively, not individually
There is no doubt that times are changing and that social media has played a very notable part in this, both for business and personal communication. What is interesting however is how this has had, in my opinion, a significant impact on how people choose to give to charity and how businesses are approaching CSR.
We are not talking about large scale corporate contributions but more about how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are choosing to make more of a collaborative effort, which as a result has greater overall impact. Let me explain further, I think that the role that SMEs have in CSR is changing for the better and that social media and in particular social media networking is encouraging this.
I started my own company in 2001 and have delivered on a very clear two-fold CSR policy; firstly, that a percentage of profits are given to worthy individuals and good causes, and secondly, by ensuring trees are planted to offset my carbon footprint by 101%.
Pat on the back, well done me but while talking with two like-minded businessmen, each successful in their own right and both generous individual contributors to charity, we recognised that by working as a collective we could in turn drive greater change, contributing larger sums of money to charities we support while also enhancing and developing stronger CSR strategies for our respective businesses.
Informal groups such as the hugely successful Yorkshire Mafia on LinkedIn (now over 8,000 strong) are demonstrable evidence of collectives with a common purpose, retaining individual brand identities while leveraging the power of the masses through social media.
The Yorkshire Mafia was started just over two years ago by Leeds businessman Geoff Shepherd, in the belief that local businesses could benefit other local businesses by simply making them more aware of each other but in a non-pressured environment. The strict policy being that this was not to become “another networking group”.
There are no memberships fees, the business evenings are a definite no-selling zone (unlike several other business groups I could name), and the group is policed to prevent unsolicited sales pitches. Members offer free advice and contacts to other members; the up-shot being it works amazingly well. In addition to the business led approach the group is dedicated to working with charities to raise awareness and money with members coming together to face new challenges and achieve fundraising targets; in some instances up to £25,000.
Without the power of a huge corporate to make an event or charitable donation significant, Mafiosi (as members are affectionately called) are collectively pooling ideas and coming up with more meaningful ways of giving from paid-for business events to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, with a team poised to take to the hills later in the year.
This new process is not simply about asking individual SMEs for money but also their skills and products, in a co-ordinated way. The total impact is so much greater than the sum of the parts, yet all involved get the benefit of being part of the whole. A co-ordinated co-operative, not a charity.
A prime example of this approach was the recent Ready Steady Marketing event; the brainchild of Ed Ryder of Biskit. The Ready Steady Cook style head-to-head between members of The Yorkshire Mafia, which raised more than £1,700 for The Forget Me Not Trust, asked members to battle it out to create the best marketing plan, all based around a live brief from the charity. The teams pitched their ideas which were judged by the audience. Brainstorms, thought showers and mind mapping led to a winning plan which will form part of the charity’s marketing strategy.
Using the power of individual SMEs as a collective, rather than working as individuals, does appear to be encouraging a greater desire to do more and to make more of an impact. As the lines between corporate social responsibility and personal social responsibility continue to blur, social media is allowing an aspiration to achieve greater good to become a reality. I hope you agree. Now all we need to decide is what challenge to set next.
Geoff Major is the founder of BlueDucks Limited, a change management consultancy with a clear CSR policy entitled Involve. He is currently in training for a charity trek to the North Pole in April 2012